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Academics, Athletics, Leadership

USAFA hosts NACDA Symposium: Collegiate athletic directors discuss stance against sexual assault


By Ray Bowden/April 20, 2017

Athletic directors from several U.S. colleges met here April 10-11 to discuss a shared priority: reducing sexual assault and learning innovative ways to teach leadership and develop character among their athletes.

The group included about 100 athletic directors from the Air Force Academy, and the Power Five conferences, including the PAC-12, ACC and Big 12, and Ivy League and District 2 and 3 National Collegiate Athletic Association schools.

They attended forums in Polaris Hall and discussed their stance against sexual assault at the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletes Spring Symposium, hosted by the Academy’s Athletic Department.

Kimberly Dickman, the Academy’s Sexual Assault and Prevention and Response analyst, was the keynote speaker.

“Athletic officials across college campuses play a critical role in preventing sexual assault,” she said. “The main point of my presentation is that leaders play a fundamental and critical role in violence prevention at all levels.”

Col. Jennifer Block, the Athletic Department’s director of culture, climate and diversity, said FBI crime statistics indicate that NCAA football and basketball athletes are 38 percent more likely to commit a sexual assault than other college students. Approximately 1,000 cadets at the Academy are NCAA athletes.

These athletes, like all cadets, take part in sexual assault prevention and response training throughout their cadet career, but they also receive ”targeted training,” specifically designed for athletes, Dickman said.

“If we know there are higher risks in a group, we want to focus on it to decrease those risks,” she said.

 ‘Are You Comfortable with That?’

Dickman holds a doctorate in education and is coauthor of the Air Force’s Healthy Relationship Training programs. She opened the symposium April 10 with a 90-minute presentation concerning the reality of sexual assault, the challenges victims face and how to apply education and knowledge to reduce the crime.

“I may challenge the way you think and feel but to address sexual assault, we have to be real,” she said.

Dickman detailed the Academy’s strategy to educate cadets and discussed sexual norms and stereotypes.  She said statistics prove there is a problem across U.S. college campuses.

“One-in-five women and one-in-17 men are victims of sexual assault,” she said. “One in six boys will be sexually assaulted before they’re 18. Are you comfortable with that?’

Dickman said the safest place for an offender is an environment where sexual slurs and comments are prevalent and not addressed.

“We can’t excuse the locker room mentality,” she said. “If you’re an offender, you know you’re ‘safe’ because of the environment. You’re right at home.”

Law enforcement experts and psychologists say there are common risk factors among those who commit sexual assault, Dickman said.

“The socio-ecological model describes risk factors on the individual, relational, community and society level,” she said. This means there are many opportunities to intervene and develop protective factors for our athletes. A full understanding of the boundaries of healthy sex, including respect, positive communication and empathy, can ensure positive interpersonal relationships. It’s really about communication and understanding your partner.”

The influence of leadership, from a university’s athletics director to first-time military supervisor at the Academy, has a powerful role in cultivating an environment of respect and combatting sexual assault, Dickman said. She asked the audience to consider its approach to the concept of sexual assault and how each athletics official inspires their own staff to think the issue.

“What’s your message as a leader regarding sexual assault?” she asked. “If someone wants to be on your team, it should be a privilege and an honor. Is it?”

Approximately 4,000 cadets are assigned to the Cadet Wing and most are 18-22 years-old. The Academy’s approach to educating these young men and women is designed specifically for their age group and developmental stage in life, Block said.

“It’s evidenced-based, developmental and multi-scaffolded,” she said. “’Scaffolded’ means the training is specifically designed for each year group,” she said. “The training fits where they are in life.”

Dickman hopes athletic directors across the nation understand their athletes and athletic programs can play a large part in reducing sexual assault and other crimes of violence.

“There are actions they can take to affect change in their sphere of influence,” she said.

Victims and survivors of sexual assault receive care and support at the Academy to help them cope with the aftermath and lingering effects.

Congresswoman Jackie Speers (D-Calif) made an impromptu appearance at the symposium April 10 and thanked the Academy for working to curtail the “scourge” of sexual assault.

“[Sexual assault is] culturally a problem in our country, but it’s one we have to address,” she said.